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Letting Go of Sentimental Items

March 13, 2024

Reading time: 8 minutes 

Last fall Chris Stapleton appeared in a Sunday morning interview on NBC with Willie Geist. In a moment reflecting on the “how” of his music making, Chris pointed to a chair he’s used as he’s recorded all of his albums and said, “It’s home.” 

We get sentimental about objects for that “home” feeling among other reasons, making it difficult to let go sometimes. These are the artifacts of our lives! Today, we’re sharing our green-yellow-red light approach to reevaluating your sentimental collections. 

But, Reader, beware! If you are waiting for us to say, “Just take a picture of the item you want to remember,” this is not the article for you.  

In this digital age, we accumulate photos as fast as dishes in the kitchen waiting to be washed. Each photo you take and let slip 100s and 1000s back in your camera roll, even if filed into a folder, is a missed opportunity. You could have captured what’s so meaningful about it while the details were fresh. You could have shared it with someone to connect over a shared memory. So, please, take the photo, we agree, but in the next moment or same day, Artifct that. Okay, now on with today’s article! 


Letting Go Can Be Really Hard. Full stop. 

When it comes to letting go of objects of sentimental value, some of us manage better than others. Some of us do not even consider ourselves sentimental and regularly “trim the fat.” The rest of us need all the help we can get.  

Our reasons and motivations for letting go of items vary: 

      • You’re downsizing and truly can’t keep it all.
      • You’re mindful that you have a lot of stuff and do not want to burden your family someday with figuring out what to do with it all.
      • You’re going through a decluttering process, because it’s beginning to feel like your walls are closing in on you. Psst ... A real or pretend household move can be a very effective motivator to declutter – less to pack and less to pay to move, too! 

As we set out to learn existing strategies for letting go of sentimental items, we canvassed the literature, decluttering blogs and videos, and more than a dozen books on the subjects. While the examples and stories differed, along with the viewpoints (scientific, minimalist, Christian, you name it!), it felt like there wasn’t much separating one approach from another. We distilled our learnings into a green-yellow-red light process for you to consider, “What do I want to do with this ‘thing?’” 

First, Why DO People Keep Sentimental Items? 

The answer to this question is especially important for all of us with someone in our life who we think is particularly sentimental, and we just can’t relate. Some of the most common reasons we found for people keeping items of emotional value that you should keep in mind include: 

      • The item was important to someone else who you loved or respected.
      • It makes you happy to have it, usually because of a memory it evokes.
      • You’ve had it a long time and it would feel strange to get rid of it. This is related to a concept called the “endowment effect.” If we own it, it has more value.
      • It’s the “last” of something or otherwise rare, or at least you think it is. This could also lead to a slippery slope of expectation that it has monetary value, too, today or “someday.” 
      • Emotional security – knowing it’s there makes you feel better.
      • Just because. Yes, that’s it. Let’s call this, “It’s in the eye of the beholder.” 

Letting Go of Sentimental Items: Green-Yellow-Red Light 

If you have spent time with an elementary school aged child during the last decade, you may have heard of this green-yellow-red approach to teaching kids about the spectrum of foods and their value to our bodies. Green foods are “go foods,” and you should enjoy them every day as you wish because they are so good for you. Yellow foods are “whoa foods,” and should be enjoyed in moderation. Red foods are those for which you should stop before putting in your mouth and consider a better option. They are not good for your body.  

The beauty of this framework is its dual simplicity and flexibility. Today we’re applying a green-yellow-red light framework to help you to parse through your belongings and just maybe let go of a few.  

It’s important to emphasize that systems like these must be adapted to personal starting points and circumstances. Hoarding disorders, grief, and other situations may require different approaches, ranging from professional support to grace and space. 

Green items: Keep, enjoy, display. Clearly this stuff matters! This might be the stuff you re-clutter with after you clear out the rest. 

Yellow items: Reconsider. Maybe there’s a better home or opportunity to repurpose some of these items. 

Red items: Halt: declutter! Red light items often have an overwhelming number of items in the same category or have had no use or value to you for years, making them ripe for thinning out over time. Remember, it does not have to be all at once! 

Here are illustrative examples from each category to help you prioritize as you let go of sentimental items. 

GREEN LIGHT – Give yourself a pass.

  • It absolutely adds value to your life, brings you joy or peace, or some other benefit. You don’t have to justify this feeling. (Remember our recent ARTIcles story, “We all deserve a Purple Bin!”) You’ll know it reflexively when you look at the item. This is a category of items that may have already been pared back, for example, if you kept only a few items that belonged to your spouse who passed. 
  • You use or display & enjoy it and have no need to replace or change. 
  • It is financially valuable, too. Do not pinch pennies here. It’s valuable and you are going to keep it because it’s doing no harm, and you would only get rid of it if you sold it. (Check out our ARTIcles story, From Rare Art to Family Heirlooms: Tips From a Master as You Consider Selling Your 'Stuff.') When you Artifct it, be sure to attach the receipt, appraisal, and or certificate of authenticity in the ‘Documentation’ section and as many details as possible, potentially including how and where you got it (provenance), dimensions, weight, and any signatures or maker’s mark(s). Bonus: Use Artifcts’ “What’s it worth?” button if you are curious about the item’s current market valuation.  
  • If a family vote were taken, the majority would say, "Keep!” We have this broken pair of Rudolph glasses. I wanted to buy a new pair and was strongly vetoed. These glasses have been with us a long time, and my family found a new way to use them in their broken state. 

YELLOW LIGHT – It might be time to go. 

  • Books. You might be surprised to reread “favorites” of yours only to discover they are favorites no longer. Your tastes shift. Books are a good category of objects to pause on and really consider whether you need each one. I’ll never get rid of my copy of Rooftops of Tehran. Even if I don’t love it one day, I remember the impact it had on me when I first read it. It stays. But recently I did reread some “critically acclaimed” books I remember enjoying and have moved with me several times, but they didn’t make the cut this time. I donated them. 
  • Battletested and/or antique kitchenware. How much of Grandma’s old cookware do you need to keep to remember what an amazing cook she was or how much you loved to cook with her or the smell of her bread in the oven? And if you are actually using it, consider if it is still safe to use. Can you reduce what you’ve kept to a few representative pieces? Maybe even retire some to become fun décor. 
  • Special textiles. Table linens, children's clothing and costumes, loved blankets, this is another area that’s easy to accumulate and squish just a bit more into that shelf or bin. And being practical, too, it’s easier to quickly try and give it a pass. If it’s all getting used, well, then that makes sense, unless of course you’re running out of space. Plus, linens tend to age without you truly SEEING the signs of age (stains, yellowing, fraying edges …). Use season changes to reconsider and maybe even “treat” yourself to something new to replace some you are letting go of. 

RED LIGHT – Some of these items need to go.  

  • Boxes and boxes of items from a loved one who has passed. It’s taking up space somewhere, and to what end? If you're ready, pick out only those items that truly resonate with you. Consider who else could want it and benefit from the rest or open it up, video it, and send to family to give them a chance to make a claim.  
  • Relics of a former career, student or professional. Do you have college notebooks and textbooks from decades ago. Why? What about awards and mementos? Others are very unlikely to really understand what if any of this matters either if you haven’t told them the stories (or better yet, Artifcted them.) I was really proud of an econometric study I did in graduate school in large part because of the note the professor wrote on the final copy. I don’t know compelled me to keep the physical copy for decades, but I can tell you now that it’s Artifcted, I finally recycled it. 
  • Kid clutter. This is the artwork, awards, presents and so much more that multiplies like bunny rabbits inside closets, under beds, and in what was once a previously (momentarily?) organized and functional system of bins. It is absolutely fair game to put this category into a regular decluttering rotation with your child(ren). Why? It is especially vulnerable to you forgetting what it was and why you and your kids kept it anyway because of the sheer volume. Be careful in this category not to go overboard. Consider our learnings shared in, “Before You Thin Out That Stuffed Animal Collection, Consider What Scientists Have to Say.”  

A Parting Story and Message to Consider 

When our co-founder Ellen Goodwin (@egoody) traveled to Arizona to Artifct with her 97-year-old great aunt, what stood out were the things her aunt had chosen to keep as she came to the end of her lifetime and the stories they told. Having downsized to so very little, chief among the items her great aunt wanted Ellen to see were a pair of goggles, a brochure, and a testing piece she used to become certified to weld airplanes during WWII. Check out #MurielsStories 

What matters to us all, what TRULY matters, shifts over time. Do not feel pressured to move too fast to declutter and/or downsize unless life circumstances give you no real choice in the matter. Even then, please remember to take a moment to smell the roses and remember the value of what you have and, sometimes, the emotional and practical (less to dust!) value of letting go. 


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Swedish Death Cleaning Your Digital Legacy

Reading time: 7 minutes 

Swedish Death Cleaning provides a conceptual framework to encourage us each to organize and declutter our homes to reduce the burden on loved ones who would otherwise need to sift through 1000s of objects one day when we’re no longer here. We might be some of the biggest fans of Margareta Magnusson, who introduced the concept in her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, that she’s never met.💗 We all can understand and maybe even relate to the concept but having a term for it gives us a starting point to act on it! 

Artifcts is your best-in-class Swedish Death Cleaning app. It’s a big reason why we write on and provide workshops related to this topic. Today we’re considering Swedish Death Cleaning from yet another angle: Your digital legacy.

Defining “Digital Legacy” 

What ARE we talking about, “digital legacy?” 

Good question! Because, no, in this context, it is not about the entirety of your online life or digital assets, e.g. banking, mortgages, insurance policies, investments, or similar. All critical! All should be a part of your estate plan and/or will. You should also invest in an online digital vault to corral it together, benefit from automated and smart reminders, and enjoy the ease of sharing securely or accessing it yourself in an emergency.

Announcement for Digital Legacy Workshop from AfterLight

Take a deep dive! Our friends at AfterLight have a new workshop offering expert guidance on organizing and securing your digital estate. Register today.

What we are talking about with "digital legacy" are the digital items that reflect our lives and personal histories as well as who we are as members of families and communities. 

What makes up your digital legacy depends in part on your age as well as your personality and views. Some of us have chosen not to adopt certain aspects of digital life or have intentionally created the smallest digital footprint possible. Others of us go big online for personal and professional reasons. 

Below we’ll provide a framework to help you get started as you organize and maybe declutter your own digital legacy to ensure its best chance of meaning and survival!

What: Take Inventory 

Literally pause, grab a piece of paper or digital notebook, and start jotting down your digital footprint. Yes, you might need to wander your home, pull out some bins, open some drawers, but this is the easy part. We’ll help you get started. Do you or other household members have any of these? 

      • Digital music and/or movie libraries, including media that’s natively digital and any you might have digitized when you, oh, let’s say, “decluttered” that VHS, DVD, or CD collection. 
      • Photographs, again, digital native photos from your phone, most likely, and those pics you have scanned or otherwise digitized over time. 
      • Social media posts, and before those, your blogs 
      • Academic and professional research, including publications, patents, and even genealogy, family history, and DNA information.  
      • NFTs and other digital works stored, for example, in your digital wallet(s).

Where: As Tech has Changed, Storage has Changed 

Before cell phones were our go-to video recorders, there were small handheld versions that were wow’ing, because they had great quality and storage for the time, and were many times smaller than those you held with a strap in one hand or the ones that were so big that they sat on your shoulder. Did you ever download all the videos on your digital handheld camera? Treasures untold may be waiting. 

Think creatively through all the digital tech you’ve used and held onto through the years when you consider where your files may be resting, and in some cases, actively degrading. 

Bulk stashes via old and new hardware.

As time has gone on, we’ve been able to more cheaply and conveniently store massive volumes of data on those things and yet you might be surprised how little you actually saved to some. One of our Arti Community members told us she has 15 thumb drives that each contain three songs her daughter recorded during her spring and fall piano recitals.

Dig out those thumb drives, memory cards that may still be in old cameras or spare cases, disks (floppy, hard, and otherwise), and flash drives. Environmental implications aside, harvesting and storing those digital files together, and backed up in a second location, is a relatively easy, cheap, and fast undertaking. Hurray! 

Desktop and laptop hard drives. 

Hopefully before you donated or recycled old computers, you saved the contents somewhere else, a flash drive, your preferred cloud environment, or your new computer, perhaps. Wherever it went, take stock. And watch out if your employer is okay with you using your work device for personal use, too, as you may have some gems on those devices. 

“The Cloud,” e.g. Google Drive, Box, Drop Box, and Permanent, among others. 

You may have gotten on a kick and started storing stuff within a particular environment because a friend or family member was sharing stuff with you there and you followed suit. But what are you using nowadays? Consider if your habits have changed and you need to rescue files from various cloud locations and move to one central archive for storage. 

Memberships, especially apps and websites you love or loved once upon a time.

If you are worried you might not remember them all, you have some options.  

Option A. Checking billing statements is the best starting point. We hope you’re not paying for something you haven’t used in years. While simpler than scrolling through your email for pages, this still gets messy if you are using many different payment methods (credit cards, PayPal, etc.) and/or other household members might be paying via a family account. So, option B ...  

Option B. Go to the apps lists on your phone, tv, and computer. What’s installed? Are you paying for it? While you’re in there, check which have location, contact, notification, and background refresh services turned on. You might want to lock down your privacy! Bonus Tip: For Apple (iOS) mobile users, you can go to your Settings -> Click on your name/circle at the top -> and click “Subscriptions.” You may find surprises there, too! 

Take a moment to consider first what content do (or did) you create or upload to these memberships that you own and can potentially download to back up elsewhere and/or to then close your account. Then, if you want to keep the account open and have backed up the content, check the account’s settings for legacy contact and/or memorialization options and set yours up so you do not lose anything you created or upload to that membership. You also will then hoepfully avoid falling into a scenario in which inactivity grants the company via its terms and conditions the right to delete your data or use your data in a way you do not support.

Best Practice call out box

Now What: What Do You Value Most? What Do “They” Value Most? 

Life comes with inherent limits. Only so much time in a day, money in our accounts, bandwidth in our brains. We must choose carefully how we spend our resources. What matters to you will help you prioritize how you manage your digital legacy. 

Here are three steps you can take to manage your digital legacy. These are not mutually exclusive! Start at ‘good,’ add in ‘better,’ and laugh, enjoy, and gain peace of mind with ‘best.’

Good. Inventory the items and put physical storage devices, e.g. flash drives, in a fire-safe place. Get rid of what you don’t want. This might mean recycling some tech (options exist!) and cleaning out files. But before you get too aggressive with that decluttering, ASK loved ones if they are interested in the types of materials you are ready to shed. You may be surprised what matters to them versus to yourself! This will help you with the next option.

Better. Digitize items with backups and share access to those resources with loved ones. This is now moving into prime Swedish Death Cleaning territory where we have not just organized but we’ve also decluttered in a way that’s potentially meaningful. Loved ones get the option to raise their hand and say, “Yes, that I want.” And the beauty here is it is digital. It won’t take up physical space so it’s less risky for them to say yes.

Best. While we all love photos, videos, and documentary evidence of cool things, like being the mastermind behind a patent, without context, even digital items become clutter we ignore. Here’s the story of one family’s “great” discovery. Whether your format is Artifcts, scrapbooks, or photobooks, find a medium to gift your loved ones a ‘why’ and not just more digital stuff. What is the story behind this photo? In layman's speak, what was this amazing scientific breakthrough in this patent that bears your name? What did it mean to you

Let us know about your progress. What was the easy part? Are you stuck on any specific digital histories of yours? What was the outcome? 


More from Artifcts on Swedish Death Cleaning: 

The Joys of Swedish Death Cleaning 

Swedish Death Cleaning a Marriage After Death or Divorce 

How Swedish Death Cleaning Helps During a Move

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Join Us for Evenings with Artifcts, Spring 2024

Spring has arrived and with it new energy for the return of Evenings with Artifcts and the generous guests who offer their time and expertise to all of us here in the Arti Community. This spring our 5-part series is anchored on the concept of decluttering.

No 'stuff' shaming or extreme minimalism hacks here. We'll talk frameworks to tackle the sentimental clutter and photos, supporting those going through life transitions and parsing through their belongings, and rethinking what exactly a "collection" is and why it holds value to us.

RSVP for the Evenings event each week; Zoom links will be available from our weekly email and our social media channels on Instagram and Facebook. Follow us so you do not miss out! And please share with friends, family, and others you meet. The more the merrier!

If you missed any of our past Evenings with Artifcts, catch up now!




Zoe Kim joins Evenings with Artifcts

Week 1: Zoë Kim

@RaisingSimple, author of Minimalism for Families



Related content: 

- Watch the replay on YouTube ->

- Zoë's 7 Key Questions to Help You Declutter

- More decluttering strategies from Artifcts ->

If you'd like to suggest a topic or speaker for future events, share with us at


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Emergency Go Bag: Don't Forget the Memories

Reading time: 5 minutes

As spring cleaning continues and storms rage, we’re taking a moment to help you make the most of that frenzy to also boost your preparedness, a key theme here at Artifcts.

We’ve shared with you the true story of our co-founder Ellen who experienced a home fire at the age of seven and encouraged you to consider what objects in your home matter most. Whether you’re in a location prone to wildfires, floods, tornados, or other extreme weather events, preparation is key.

We also recently shared the story of a woman who proactively relocated her cherished belongings to a secure, climate-controlled storage facility out of harm’s way from the California wildfires only to have a flood at the storage facility destroy many of her belongings, photos, videos, and documents included.

Today is all about your emergency go-bag. Do you have one? Think twice, and consider these essential questions:

      • Does your go-bag address the needs of each person in your household? 
      • Are the items inside fully charged?
      • Have any medicine or food items expired?
      • Did you borrow an item from the bag and never replace it?
      • Have you done anything to include the heart-value items in life that will see you through and beyond a life-changing disaster?

Let's take a closer look at the important elements of your go bag. Read on!

How to Prepare Against the Unexpected – Digital for the Win!

Well, maybe there’s no "winning" when it comes to disasters. Loss is real and painful. But we can mitigate our losses with less effort and time than ever before, along with the promise of far greater security and resiliency. How? Digitizing key personal information is your answer to recover faster and with less stress.

Just like we take advantage of advances in modern medicine to live longer, healthier, more active lives, we should take advantage of advances in digitization that make it easier and cheaper than ever to keep digital copies at our fingertips for critical documents. In an emergency, please have digitized and securely stored:

      • IDs, including driver’s license, military ID, employment ID, passport; it’s especially important to have at least one form of ID digitized that has your photo on it.  
      • Insurance cards 
      • Mortgages and titles for homes, cars, and other high-value assets 
      • Financial details, most likely in the form of online access to your accounts. But we also recommend securely stored digital copies of credit and debit cards for deactivation against fraud and rapid replacement. 
      • Contact lists. Do you know the phone numbers of your neighbors, your financial planner, your insurance company? We’d be shocked if you did. They are likely only stored on your phone. 
      • Photos. Okay, hear us out. We are talking about photos you might have in hardcopy and photos that you may have stored digitally on a drive and not yet backed up elsewhere. We strongly recommend using a backup for your digitized photos and other media.

With all these items digitized, you could in theory gain access to resources to replace what you lose if you need to leave your home urgently.  

Notice that Artifcts will be publishing an article about digital vaults soon

Now, About That Go Bag

Your go bags—which we hope are light weight and at least water resistant—will offer immediate, short-term security. Backpacks are your best bet for any variety of circumstances. DO NOT bet on carting around bins or boxes of any kind. You should hope these are fireproof and redundant. See our earlier point about digitization! 

Suggested contents for a bag can be absurdly loooong. Having consulted those lists and experienced go-bag moments ourselves, here’s what’s always in ours. The big exception is cold weather environments – at the start of the season, we add gloves, hats, hand warmers, and foil wraps.

      • Slip photocopies of a driver’s license, passport, or other ID for each adult in the household and your insurance information (home, car, and health) in an easily accessible waterproof pouch. A plethora of inexpensive pouches are available online and in retail stores, especially sporting goods and luggage.  
      • Changes of clothing, especially undergarments. 
      • Medicines, but be careful they do not expire, and ear plugs. You don’t know where you may need to sleep, and quality sleep is vital. 
      • Multiple battery packs (to charge devices we hope you’ll be able to have with you) 
      • A water purification device, such as a Grayl, so no matter where you are displaced to, you’ll have access to safe drinking water. On the topic of water, we also keep Nuun or similar in our bag for a hydration boost. If you’re in a hot climate, chugging water, working hard clearing property or otherwise on your feet, you may need some electrolytes on your side to pop into your water. 
      • Long shelf-life, macronutrient complete snacks. No, we shouldn’t subsist on meal-replacement bars, but if there were ever a time, this is it. Just make sure whatever you choose aligns with your dietary restrictions. Shelf-stable protein shakes work great, too. Jerkies, nuts and dried fruits, as well, but watch out for nuts which expire more quickly.

Forgetting Something? What Says Home, Comfort, and Family to You?

Creature comforts and irreplaceable items need to make that go-bag. Will you die without them? No. Will you feel better, have an excuse to smile, in a sad and stressful situation? Very likely.

This weekend, ask each person in your home what one or two items would they most want to take in an emergency, and record that information digitally in your mobile phone, so if time permits you are prepared to act, not ask.

      • When kids are young, creature comforts might be a lovey, but you could also prepack a spare of that lovey, along with small games and a cozy blanket and an inflatable pillow.
      • For us adults, your backup drives can live in your go bag if you do not have a cloud-based backup. Any cherished or valuable to you items tucked safely away? Can they go safely in this pre-packed bag instead of the back of a closet or box? When a fire sweeps a home, you may have only seconds to grab and go before smoke or fire stops you.

If your first step is to purchase a pre-made emergency go bag from the myriad of online and brick-and-mortar shops, super. But we hope you'll choose to take steps for you and your loved ones toward a more personal go-bag to protect yourselves. Explore our Allies in 'Stuff' as well for resources and professionals that can help lift the burden off you.


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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